OBITUARY : D. B. Gregor

If any man had the gift of tongues, it was D.B. Gregor. A classicist by training and profession, he was fluent in over 20 languages and read many others. He used Esperanto - the best-known of the world's auxiliary languages, designed to solve problems of international communication -in literary translation and original writing, and was one of the last to correspond in Esperanto's predecessor, Volapk.

He devoted much of his life, however, to the study of the minority languages and dialects of northern Italy, and was almost certainly the last speaker of all six Celtic languages. He was hero-worshipped in Friuli, a region in north-eastern Italy, for his championing of its language and its culture; but his modesty and the relative obscurity of his position as a schoolmaster combined to ensure that he never received in Britain the wider academic recognition he deserved.

A gentle, unassertive man, Douglas Gregor was nevertheless a passionate advocate of minority languages and a committed scholar. He wrote about Byron's knowledge of Armenian, discussed the texts of Greek tragedies, and translated two Sherlock Holmes stories into Dolomitic Ladin and its sister languages Friulan and Romontsch. He wasted neither paper nor time: he wrote an outline of Slovenian grammar on cardboard shirt-packaging and, had there not been room for a vocabulary list next to his shaving-mirror, he would no doubt have grown a beard.

He had become an Esperantist at the age of 13, and was active in the movement as an undergraduate. He was Editor of Brita Esperantisto and Biblia Revuo, and was elected to the International Academy of Esperanto in 1963. He was a painstaking editor and a reviewer of uncommon thoroughness and fairness. He published translations in Esperanto of Sophocles' Antigone and Oedipus Rex, and of many other shorter literary works.

His most important publications came in the years after his retirement. Romagnol: Language and Literature (1972) and Friulan: Language and Literature (1975) were both the first English-language grammars of their languages and each included an anthology with translations by the author.

Mad Nap: Pulon Matt followed in 1976, a 15th-century burlesque epic in Romagnol never before published. Celtic: a comparative study (1980) was the first detailed comparison of Breton, Cornish, Irish, Manx, Scots Gaelic and Welsh, in which Gregor chronicled the decline in Celtic speakers, examined the causes and described the struggle for survival. At the time there was only one other person familiar enough with all six languages to review the book. Romontsch Language and Literature (1982), the second work in his intended Ladin trilogy, described the fourth language of Switzerland. He had previously published Stralci (1968), a reader for students of Italian, and Verses and Versions (1969), a collection of his own poems and translations.

Gregor was particularly concerned with the preservation of threatened languages. "It is time," he wrote, "that languages were regarded as part of the ecological scene and the end of one of them felt as deeply as the extinction of a species." His learning was never dry, however, but enlivened by his sense of humour, a fund of good anecdotes and a love of company.

Douglas Gregor read Greats at Exeter College, Oxford, and then taught Classics and Modern Languages at Wellington School, in Somerset. He had recently left that job to study in France when the Second World War broke out. He found his languages in demand in the Intelligence Corps, where he served in Northern Ireland, Algeria and Italy. He was among the first to enter Florence and was twice mentioned in despatches.

During the Italian campaign he produced a volume of translations of poems of the Risorgimento and compiled the first dictionary of Friulan; more importantly, he also met his future wife, Lella, in Ravenna, which set the seal on his relationship with his favourite town and its language, Romagnol.

After the war, Gregor joined Northampton Grammar School, where he remained as Senior Classics Master until his retirement in 1969. He was always delighted to hear or receive visits from former pupils, and it was characteristic of his self-effacing nature that he invariably thanked visitors for finding time in their busy schedules to see him. His inspiration and influence will be felt for many years to come.

David Lilley

Douglas Bartlett Gregor, linguist, scholar, teacher: born Swansea 6 February 1909; married 1948 Graziella Gelosi (one son, one daughter); died Northampton 26 March 1995.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories